Consumer Tips

PROTECTING YOURSELF IN A COMPLEX MARKETPLACE — Our researchers and attorneys provide key tips for how you can shop for the best bank, get the best car loan, protect against identity theft, and more.

The Best Ways to Protect Yourself

Being a consumer in today’s marketplace can be tough. Financial decisions in particular often require navigating a torrent of misleading advertisements and pages of jargon-filled small print. Even the simplest choices — everyday financial decisions like opening a credit card, creating a bank account, applying for a loan, or sorting through cell phone contracts — can take time, energy and knowledge that too many of us don’t have.
   
Many financial institutions don’t set out to make it easier for their customers:

  • 1 out of every 20 Americans — millions of consumers — have errors on their credit reports significant enough to raise their rate on loans.
  • Financing cars through dealerships costs consumers more than $25.8 billion in additional hidden interest.
  • From 2005 to 2010, identity theft rose by 33%. In 2012, an estimated 12.6 million Americans became victims. That is 1 victim every 3 seconds. 
  • Banks made around $11 billion in overdraft fees in 2015, fees they pitched as “overdraft protection” but actually cost consumers more.

Despite these practices, there are ways to protect yourself. We want to help. This is why we’ve created the following tip sheets based on common complaints to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission. Read on. Protect yourself from becoming a statistic.

File a complaint if you have a problem

For all sorts of everyday consumer problems, there are government resources that can help. Federal agencies like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and Consumer Product Safety Commission exist to protect us from unfair or dangerous products. Submitting complaints to government agencies can help resolve your problem AND it helps these agencies hold companies accountable for unfair practices. For more information, consult our tip sheet on the subject, which includes information on how to contact the CFPB with financial complaints, the CPSC with toy and other product safety complaints, the NHTSA with car safety complaints, and DOT with air travel complaints: How to File a Consumer Complaint and Use Government Databases.

Keeping Track of Your Money:

Credit Reports, Credit Scores, and Identity Theft:

Common Consumer Problems:

Please note that these tips are not intended as, nor should they be construed as, legal advice. If you need legal advice dealing with a consumer problem, consult an attorney.

Issue updates

Blog Post | Consumer Protection

The most efficient policeman | Abe Scarr

This morning, Illinois PIRG Education Fund and Glidepath Development, a renewable energy and energy storage developer, filed a complaint in Cook County Circuit Court against the Illinois Commerce Commission. The complaint alleges that the Commission has violated the Illinois Open Meetings Act in its management of the Next Grid study.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Update on Troubled Peoples Gas Pipe Replacement Program | Abe Scarr

This morning, the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) approved a settlement regarding 2014 spending on its troubled pipe replacement program. The settlement itself is a good outcome for ratepayers, but a far cry from the necessary reforms to the pipe replacement program itself.

> Keep Reading
News Release | Illinois PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Illinois Commerce Commission OK's Budget Busting Peoples Gas Pipe Program

The Illinois Commerce Commission voted Wednesday to approve a plan from Peoples Gas to increase spending on its troubled pipe replacement program. The vote concludes a two year investigation initiated after a 2015 audit found widespread program mismanagement.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Public Comment on the Peoples Gas Accelerated Main Replacement Program | Abe Scarr

I prepared a public comment before the Illinois Commerce Commission, opposing their plan to approve an increase in spending on the troubled Peoples Gas pipe replacement program. The Commission denied my request to make an oral comment. They did not give me a reason why.

> Keep Reading
News Release | Illinois PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

32nd Annual “Trouble in Toyland” Survey Finds Dangerous Toys on Store Shelves

Stores nationwide are still offering dangerous and toxic toys this holiday season and, in some cases, ignoring explicit government safety regulations in the process, according to Illinois Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) Education Fund’s 32nd annualTrouble in Toyland report

> Keep Reading

Pages

News Release | Consumer Protection

U.S. PIRG CONSUMER ADVOCATE MIKE LITT TESTIFIES AT CONGRESSIONAL HEARING ON EQUIFAX

Our Consumer Advocate, Mike Litt, was invited by Congresswoman Maxine Waters, Ranking Member of the House Financial Services Committee, to testify this week at a Congressional hearing on the Equifax data breach. This was a continuation of the committee's previously held hearing on October 5th entitled "Examining the Equifax Data Breach."

> Keep Reading

Statement on Walmart’s Decision to Strengthen Chemical Footprint Policy

Illinois PIRG Education Fund applauds retail giant Walmart for updating its sustainability policy to restrict toxic chemicals in 90,000 products including cosmetics and skincare items, infant products, and household cleaners.

> Keep Reading

Agency votes to begin rulemaking process to protect American children, firefighters from hazardous flame retardant chemicals

Today, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) took three critical steps toward protecting consumers and firefighters from the hazards posed by a class of flame retardant chemicals (known as “organohalogens”). The CPSC directed the Commission’s staff to begin the rulemaking process to ban the sale of four categories of consumer products if they contain these chemicals. Once again, the CPSC has made an important action for consumers.

> Keep Reading

Statement on Unilever Starting to Disclose Fragrances via SmartLabel

Statement from Illinois PIRG Education Fund Toxics Advocate Dev Gowda on Unilever Starting to Disclose Fragrances via SmartLabel

> Keep Reading

Texas Chemical Explosions: More Safety Needed Now

Two small explosions last night at a Texas chemical facility highlight that comprehensive emergency regulations need to be enforced more strictly at chemical plants.

> Keep Reading

Pages

Report | Illinois PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Why You Should Get a Security Freeze BEFORE Your Information is Stolen

The first defense against any kind of identity theft is to be vigilant about protecting your personal information by taking steps like creating secure passwords, installing anti-virus and
anti-malware software, and shredding personal documents. However, if and when someone does steal enough of your information to commit identity theft, there is really only one type that you can stopbefore it happens: New account identity theft, where someone opens a new account in your name. All other types of identity theft and fraud, at best, can only be detected after the fact.

> Keep Reading
Report | Illinois PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Mortgages and Mortgage Complaints

This is the sixth in a series of reports that review complaints to the CFPB nationally and on a state-by-state level. In this report we explore consumer complaints about mortgages, with the aim of uncovering patterns in the problems consumers are experiencing with mortgage originators and servicers.

> Keep Reading
Report | Illinois PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Trouble in Toyland 2014

Among the toys surveyed this year, we found numerous choking hazards and five toys with concentrations of toxics exceeding federal standards. In addition to reporting on potentially hazardous products found in stores in 2014, this installment of the report describes the potential hazards in toys and children’s products.

> Keep Reading
Report | Illinois PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

The Unfriendly Skies

It seems as if every consumer has an airline travel story—how they were trapped on the tarmac, tricked by fees, missed their connection, or lost their bag. What many consumers don’t know is that they have a number of new rights as well as a right to complain, both to the airline and to the government. This report tracks five years of consumer complaints and highlights which airlines received the most complaints and what kinds of complaints were most common.

> Keep Reading
Report | Illinois PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Debt Collectors, Debt Complaints

This is the fifth in a series of reports that review complaints to the CFPB nationally and on a state-by-state level. In this report we explore consumer complaints about debt collection, with the aim of uncovering patterns in the problems consumers are experiencing with debt collectors and documenting the role of the CFPB in helping consumers successfully resolve their complaints.

> Keep Reading

Pages

Blog Post | Consumer Protection

30 Years of "Trouble in Toyland," 30 Years of Safety Improvements | Anna Low-Beer

Every year, U.S. PIRG Education Fund releases Trouble in Toyland, a report on toy safety which examines toys bought at major national retailers, looking for safety hazards including toxic toys, choking hazards, labeling violations, powerful magnets, and excessibely loud toys. We continue to find these hazards on store shelves, which indicates the need for continued vigilance and adequate enforcement of safety regulations. But despite lingering dangers, in the last 30 years, we've come a long way in terms of both policy and compliance with standards.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Tips for T-Mobile/Experian Data Breach Victims | Abe Scarr

Reports indicate Experian lost data for 15 million customers and applicants of the wireless phone company T-Mobile, including names, addresses and birth dates and social security numbers, among other information breached from the consumer files

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

The CFPB is 4 years old and has a lot to show for it! | Ed Mierzwinski

Tuesday, July 21, marks four years to the day since the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau opened its doors to protect consumers and make financial markets work. We've summarized some of the ways CFPB works for you on a new web page.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

How the CFPB’s Data Keeps Getting Better and Better | Mike Litt

As the CFPB turns 4 years old on July 21, here is some information on how it works for you and how we at PIRG use its data to produce reports, such as our new report on mortgage complaints to the CFPB. We've also got some photos from the Americans for Financial Reform "CFPB at 4" event.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Event 5/11 re new book on black box decisionmaking & consumers | Ed Mierzwinski

UPDATED TO CONFIRM CFPB Speaker. We are hosting an event Monday, 5/11, from 9am-noon ET to discuss a new book, The Black Box Society, with author Frank Pasquale. Click Keep Reading to RSVP to attend in person or to watch the livestream. While credit bureaus have long functioned as black box gatekeepers to opportunity, panelists will discuss the growing use of more and more, even less transparent black boxes to categorize consumers in the digital economy.

> Keep Reading

Pages

View AllRSS Feed

Support us

Your tax-deductible donation supports Illinois PIRG Education Fund’s work to educate consumers on the issues that matter, and the powerful interests that are blocking progress.

Learn More

You can also support Illinois PIRG Education Fund’s work through bequests, contributions from life insurance or retirement plans, securities contributions and vehicle donations.